The transition from communism to a market-based economy did not create poverty in Russia, but it certainly made life more difficult for many groups of people. Poverty became widespread in 1992 and grew in 1993, widening from not more than about 10 percent of the population in the 1980s to nearly 30 percent by 1993. Poverty, often associated with family size, was concentrated increasingly in families with children, as well as in families with unemployed or handicapped persons. Poverty grew especially quickly in the rural areas. Certain geographical regions of Russia were disproportionately affected by poverty, reflecting increasing disparities in wages. The Russian Far North and Far East were hard hit. Poverty was strongly associated with single-parent status, and the majority of such households were female-headed.
Measuring poverty is difficult. Nevertheless, it is undisputed that a large share of the Russian population lives below the poverty line. The social assistance provided by the Russian government has not been sufficiently targeted to the poor. According to surveys of the standard of living, the share of eligible households who did not receive social benefits increased from 60 to 80 percent. Further, the share of the households that were legally entitled to public benefits and received them has decreased dramatically as local governments have "postponed" payments. Measures of public satisfaction indicate the quality of government services has generally deteriorated since 1991, and the poor, particularly the elderly poor, have been the most directly affected.
The economic transition also witnessed the "feminization" of poverty. Single-mother families and single elderly women make up a group with the highest poverty risk. In the case of single-mother families, poverty factors include the low individual income of the mother. Added to this is the insufficient amount of private and public transfers designed to partly offset the absence of other income sources such as alimony after divorce or pensions for the benefit of children after the death of their father.
The elderly also suffer from insufficient pensions, of which 90 percent go to women, according to a World Bank report. The average pension allowance is two-thirds of a retiree's cost of living. This means that pensions cannot meet even the most basic necessities of the elderly population. The problem for women retirees is compounded by the fact that pensions, which for this age group is largely the only source of income, are higher for men of retirement age than for women.
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